Sheaffer Reminder ballpoint
I’ve chosen a vintage pen for my first review because it was the one pen that started it all. My mother gave it to me long ago, I can’t recall the exact year or circumstance but I am sure I already had it back in 1997. As far as I know, dating of these pens with certainity is hard to impossible. There have been so many variations, it was in production for so long, and it features no special markings for that purpose.
At first there is not much to see: a classic looking ballpoint pen, very much in the style of the world famous Parker Jotter, I think comparisons are inevitable. The body unscrews by the half too, allowing for replacement of the refill. The looks may be even more spartan than the Jotter. There is no sculpted arrow clip and no plunger at the top. Some versions display only the white dot on the clip, while others have the “SHEAFFER” name stamped on it. I personally think the former are better looking. The brand name may be stamped around at the bottom of the top half, along with the words “Made in USA”. Wht I assume are lower end models have the branding on plastic. I am not aware of this pen ever being made in other countries and I imagine it probably was out of production before or at the time of the brands aqcuisition by Bic in the late nineties. Production must have started around the mid to late fifties and I would not be surprised to find some version made on the other side of the world, in Japan or Australia maybe, considering Sheaffer had factories there and had businesses with Sailor. Some versions also feature a polished “belt” over the brushed metal finish on this area too, a subtle and elegant detail.
The most usual finish is a softly brushed matte steel top half with a plastic bottom in a variety of colors. A common misconception about vintage Sheaffer all-metal pens is that they are made of steel. In reality they are made of brass, with an electroplated or laquered finish. I’ve seen the brushed chrome version advertised as a stainless steel pen on the second hand market and really it’s a forgivable mistake. I have a soft spot for this finish with the gold clip and details. I think it’s a truly timeless design, simple yet elegant and unmistakeably Sheaffer. It is shaped like a torpedo or cigar, with that continuous smooth surface without harsh breaks or indentations that the brand seemed so determined to perfect in the old days and is still homaged in pens like the VFM. Unfortunatly being an electroplated surface it is prone to scratches and many pens have experienced wear, revealing the brass underneath. They are also heavier than steel pens, which I like but others may not. There are mirror-polished steel versions and I am not sure what metal the gold plated ones are made of. Another questionable claim I regularly see in the second hand market that I am unable to verify is that the gold colored clips are actually gold plated. All I can say is that the gold finish does vanish.
While uncommon, Sheaffer is no stranger to solid precious metal (and lavishly decorated) limited editions. I can envision a Reminder made of solid platinum or palladium, but at the same time, I like that it was always kept as a more modest and humble pen. If you are looking for the most exclusive version, you will have to settle for the solid sterling silver or the gold plated ones which, after almost to decades, I’ve still been unable to add to my collection. Yo will see one one is pictured in my photos but it’s only a carcass.
The trusty Reminder accompained many lines from the proud american maker, from the low end 440/444 fountain pens, the wide variety of imperials (and its reintroduction), to the Stylist and Ladysheaffers, some of which feature intricate engravings and, on the higher end, are made of silver alloy. A lower end look-alike with a more traditional plunger was offered with the Glideriter and shool pen lines. I would have loved to see the reminder being reissued with the release of the Legacy, but times had changed and the market trends dictated a beefier ballpoint. Much of the style was indeed retained for the Legacy, but the tip is retracted now by a twist action mechanism.
Now, think about that for a moment. The reminder does not feature a button or plunger nor a twist mechanism (and is not one of those “false cap”/half-body plunger abominations like the Parker 45 either), yet it is a retractable ballpoint. How does that work? Well, it’s really simple and obvious: if features a switch. Ok, not exactly. The clip acts like a switch to “turn” on and off the tip. You just need to gently press the bottom of the clip and it will in turn depress a square button hidden underneath. As long as the clip is in this position, the tip is exposed. This has several implications that add to that feel of refinement and thoughtful design that make it one of my all time favorites.
First, the feature that gives its name to this pen: it is not possible to clip it to your shirt pocket with the tip “out”, which could potentially leave points or lines on the fabric. You can only clip it by resetting the switch/clip back to its original position. Second, the clip is unobstrusive and out of the way while in “ready to write” position. This would later be a selling point for more ambitious pens like the Lamy Dialog 3 (and a long requested feature for the Pilot Vanishing Point).
The third implication of the ingenious clip/plunger design is that it can (and requires to) be operated with your fingers in different positions compared to other retractables. If you are used to taking the pen in your hand and pushing the botton with your thumb, you will be able to do that with the Reminder too, but it will have to sit lower for your thumb to reach the clip. There might be a semantic connection here between pressing the white dot and exposing the point, and I may be reading too much between the lines, but I feel this necessary interaction with the logo gives a closer connection with the brand. I greatly appreciate that the logo, be it an inset white dot or an engraving, will never fade and that the clip prevents any rattle or loose feel that can be present in plunger-type retractables. A common solution to this problem is using a second spring to keep the button always extended. While I do like it better than having a loose and dancing button, it seems now an unnecessary complication of the Parker way of doing things.
My preferred way to use and “engage the writing mode” is to take it near the middle between my index and middle finger, press the clip with my thumb and then just slide my fingers down. This is a small but significant change from wrapping your fingers around the pen, pushing the plunger and positioning the pen between your three fingers to write. It requires less steps and leads to an even more immediate way to expose the tip if you carry the Reminder in your shir pocket: you just need to pull it out and, since it will already be between your index finger and thumb, you just press the clip and slide the pen into position. There is a subset of people who get used to do something very similar with the usual plunger activated retractables, but it takes an extra step of pushing it against your other hand or another surface to achieve the same results. When you are putting the Reminder back in your pocket you don’t need to take an extra position or step to retract it, just press the top of the clip and you’re set. Twist action retractables require many movements to operate and I don’t like that.
The final implication is that the clip is quite solid and attached very firmly to the pen and will not easily come off or deform. Yeah, I know it may not be that common, but the clip of the Jotter, as good looking and emblematic as it is, performs worse. True story: I used to have a Jotter, but I lost it because the clip detached and was the only thing remaining. The Reminder clip is naturally spring-loaded and actually can accommodate very thick fabrics. After that, it will instantly jump back into position, without any sign of over-flexing.
An additional observation that serves no practical purpose but is another subtle touch: the tip never protrudes beyond its writing position. Most retractables do when you press the plunger because the mechanism disengages and turns to alternate between the retracted and exposed position.
As you may have guessed, I think Sheaffer was very clever with this design and I’m in love with it. The fact that it’s a refined mechanical feature you will hardly notice if you are not using it just makes me like it even more.
An interesting addition to these pens (also available in old Jotters and pens from other vendors) is the “perpetual” calendar. It consists of an area with a one month calendar printed on the barrel. In reality it has several rows of numbers that, when covered by an auxiliary ring, can be set to display any month through a window in said ring. I’m fortunate enough to own two of them.
Now, the ugly. There was a version of this clip made while the brand was owned by Textron that leaves a ghastly space at the top, making it look like it’s falling off. It is actually meant to be pressed with your thumb to make cliping the pen to your pocket even easier. It does help but I find it unsightly and don’t want to talk about it ever again. Disclaimer: no, I did not destroy the goldplated reminder with such hideous clip in the pictures. It was attacked by a dog and a relative gave it to me in that condition.
But the ugliest part (and the reason why I don’t provide a writing sample) is the refill. It is called simply the “Sheaffer K refill” and is an ordinary ballpoint refill with a peculiar size. Shape is barely distinguishable from Parker refills that became the standard in the industry, they are just a bit shorter and without the indentations at the top. That means the refill itslef does not turn over its axis and is not part of the retracting mechanism and arguibly exposes it less to dirt and such. Those might be purely academic advantages but I like them. However if we are going to compare such minute details, I must recognize that the Lamy M16 shows higher mechanical refinement. It not only is independent from the mechanism but it features a small protrusion at the top that keeps it safely centered in the barrel so it never scratches it, allowing transparent and translucent pens to keep their luster for years, such as the Vista, AlStar and rare versions of the Noto. Then Lamy fills them with poorest and saddest ink they could find, but that’s a story we’ll cover in a future chapter.
Sheaffer K refill also suffers from a more limited availability and selection of color and quality inks. There is no gel or improved viscosity and saturation option, like Parker offers. Quality has also been dwindling, particularly since they are no longer made in the U.S. Vintage refills are made of metal, write smoothly with a richer line and (luckily) don’t dry up for years, maybe decades. I am fortunate enough to own several vintage refills I got with NOS pens and there is simply no comparison between those and the current ones. You will have to try your luck with another of the few vendors that still make K-compatible refills such as Monteverde. I am sure the day will come when Sheaffer/Bic no longer offers the K refill anymore.
If you are feeling adventurous, you can do as me and shorten standard Parker refills with cutting pliers, as the example at the right of the previous picture shows . Once you get the size right, you can just remove the modified plastic bit from the old refill to a fresh one. Cumbersome but, for me, totally worth it.
Another possible complaint is that the Reminder is just too thin. I see two widths in my collection. The widest being the calendar pens and the standard half plastic/half metal variations. This latter variation may be hard to distinguish from the “thin” version, untill you look closely at the details. The thin version features a shorter metal cone near the tip and the polished belt at the middle. It also appears to be made of slighly better grade plastic. Not that the others feel cheap or anything, they are all made of the better quality plastic that does not shatter easily. Now that I think about it, my thinner models were aquired NOS around a year ago and may be a late nineties reissue made of ABS plastic. The all metal version are of the thin variety. They are good for signing documents and jotting quick notes, but you will not be writing the next great american novel with them without some serious discomfort.
I don’t want to end this post on a negative note, so I will go back to the beginning. Why did this model in particular start my lifelong pen obsession? Mainly because it looks so simple, yet is full of details that add to a different and better experience. A friend of mine once burrowed a Reminder and was taken aback by the whole clip/switch situation. He asked me why in the world would anybody go to such lengths to build a simple pen. “To prevent it from staining your shirt pocket” I said. I wish I remembered his exact words when, after a brief moment of silence, he said that it was through details like this that the true soul of things around us is revealed. I was reminded of the often misquoted and missunderstood “Form follows function“.